Make no mistake about it, Al Hood is a great trumpeter. Able to play the most demanding conceptualizations his improvisational jazz oriented mind can think up with the utmost of seeming ease, Hood’s dark yet robust tone is like putting on a warm and thick sweater on a chilly and overcast day; it gives you a safe and secure feeling that warms not just the flesh but also the soul. His background includes time with the ghost bands of Woody Herman and Glenn Miller, as well gigs with Ray Charles, Arturo Sandoval, Richie Cole and the Phil Collins Big Band. These days Hood teaches at the University of Denver.
The Hanson referred to in the title is Dave Hanson, an Oklahoma born pianist and composer-arranger who studied with Manny Albam and Rayburn Wright at the Eastman School of Music. It’s Hanson’s arrangements of eight standards and four original compositions incorporating strings, brass and woodwinds upon which the body of the CD rests. His writing provides Hood firm backgrounds and lush flowery soundscapes upon which the trumpeter is given ample room to display his incredible facility and gifted playing skills.
Highlights include Hood’s harmon mute work on "Here’s To Life." Most trumpeters find it difficult to have a personal sound when using the metal appendage and end up with a proclivity towards playing in a style reminiscent of Miles Davis. Hood, instead, is able to imbue a warmth and smoky sounding reverence while still flying through the trumpet’s range in a lightning quick manner not only divergent from Davis’ but also uniquely in Hood’s singing style.
Other high spots are Hood’s carefully constructed moments of fanciful and charmingly fast flights of fancy on the ballad "In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning," and his overdubbed big band trumpet section sound on the Hanson original "Just A Little Taste." With an endless ability to continually say something new on each piece, Hood’s tastefulness in not overemphasizing his ample technical abilities out of respect of making music first captivates on every track.
If there is a problem it’s in the recording quality. There is no way one can release a recording of trumpet and strings and not have listeners reflect on trumpeter Chris Botti’s recent similarly orchestrated recordings or Herb Alpert’s work on Midnight Sun; in the 21st century it’s impossible to live in a vacuum. While Hood includes a lot of great and hot improvisation, as opposed to Botti’s or Alpert’s which is more about mood and character, one can’t help but make comparisons. Not having the full resources of Columbia/Sony or A&M records behind him, Hood, on this self-produced and -released disc, isn’t afforded the luxury of having the time and or probably the availability of hugely expensive compressors, microphones and other studio wizardry. Ultimately the sound is not as warm or with nearly the same depth as what Botti and Alpert have been able to create with similar instrumentation. Hood’s playing, however, is so spectacular that if you’re a trumpeter you still have to pick up this recording.
Small problems like the arrangement of "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?" which falls somewhere between New Orleans second line and warmly romantic, two styles not necessarily compatible with each other, or the ensemble playing of saxophonist Rich Chiaraluce not always rhythmically lining up in sync with Hood on "Ceora," are just minor defects not detracting from the whole. For an artist known throughout the professional trumpet community as an expert on Clifford Brown, but not necessarily known outside of it, one can only hope this recording will get some air time and help to give this 45 year-old brass man some well deserved presence in the jazz world.